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(photo by Morgan Genser)

SAMOHI — “Come on, Ty!”

The voice rises above the din of the crowd.

“Pick your spot, don’t give this guy anything.”

A cadre of professional baseball scouts raise their radar guns to clock the lanky lefthander’s next pitch, a pitch that some say is worthy of a first round pick in the Major League Baseball draft in June.

The ball pops into the catcher’s mitt, the umpire yells “strike!”

“That’s how you do it, keep it at your pace, Tyler.”

This has been a typical scene at Santa Monica High School baseball games this season as senior Tyler Skaggs prepares to make the jump from local hero to professional athlete.

His mother, Debbie Skaggs, who is also the school’s head softball coach, is always the loudest cheerleader in the stands when her boy takes the field. She chirps it up with the best of them and she isn’t afraid to let everybody in attendance know that she’s there for her kid.

What mother wouldn’t, but this season is unlike others in recent memory. It has been years since Samohi has produced a player of this caliber. Athletic Director Norm Lacy calls Tyler Skaggs the finest ballplayer to come from the school since former Dodger Tim Leary took the hill for the Vikings in the mid-1970s.

That praise has come from all directions. Opposing coaches are glad when the games he faces them are over. Teammates admire his work ethic. And, most importantly, those in the know who have the power to make or break a player have universally proclaimed him a legitimate big league prospect.

“Our area scout likes him a great deal,” said Kevin Towers, the general manager for the San Diego Padres, while attending Skaggs’ start against Inglewood earlier this season. “I like his size, his arm strength.

“I like what I’ve seen.”

Who hasn’t?

Scouts from every big league team have come out to see him pitch. Even Tommy Lasorda and Leary have been spotted in the stands during his starts.

This kind of attention would seem overwhelming for the average 17-year-old, but Tyler Skaggs isn’t an average kid.

“The attention has been pretty reasonable,” Tyler Skaggs said. “[The scouts] go on your time.

“If you don’t want to talk to them they are always willing to talk later.”

The amount of time talent evaluators have spent following the talented hurler has given them ample opportunities to get face to face with both Tyler Skaggs and his family.

They have been willing to play the game on his terms, making what could be an intrusive process palatable for the Skaggs family.

Debbie Skaggs admits that the constant calls from scouts can be trying, but she understands that it comes with the territory.

“Everything is scrutinized,” she said. “He has to work hard to know what his goal is.

“That goal is to play Major League Baseball.”

While he can’t control what the scouts think, he has been able to ignore those prying eyes and perform on the baseball field.

Matt Hattabaugh, an area scout for the Colorado Rockies, is impressed. His team owns the 11th, 32nd, 34th and 70th picks in June’s draft and Hattabaugh believes Tyler Skaggs will be off the board by their fourth pick. In fact, Hattabaugh said he would be surprised if he made it to the 32nd pick.

“Somebody is going to give this guy a job and I hope it’s us,” he said. “This guy has the makings of a big league pitcher.”

He compared him to former Angels pitcher Chuck Finley and sees Tyler Skaggs as a potential middle of the rotation option.

Putting in work

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Often pitted against the top teams on Samohi’s schedule, Tyler Skaggs has gone 2-2 with 63 strike outs in 41 innings, a ratio that puts him head and shoulders above his peers. His stellar 1.37 earned run average was bolstered by a no-hitter against Lompoc in April.

He’s pitched against the likes of Banning, Crespi and Royal — all of which are considered baseball powerhouses. He held Banning to just two runs, Royal to none.

Head Coach Rob Duron said that it was that Royal game that truly impressed him. Tyler Skaggs went five innings allowing just one hit and an unearned run. He also racked up 12 strike outs in the effort, but it was his control that caught his coach’s attention.

“I think the Royal game was the most outstanding game I’ve seen a pitcher throw in a long time,” Duron said. “He was just on.

“It seemed like the catcher didn’t have to move his glove once.”

Unluckily for Skaggs he was forced to take a no-decision in the game, but he was just happy to be facing a team of Royal’s quality.

“I love facing teams like that,” he said. “It gets me pumped up when I face better teams because I know I can dominate them.”

He has certainly rewarded his coach’s tendency to pitch him against elite teams.

A few games after the Royal start came a must-see matchup against a Crespi team that Duron jokingly said ranks up there with the Angels and Dodgers. With what Debbie Skaggs estimated to be 60 scouts at the ball park, Tyler Skaggs didn’t fail to wow onlookers with a 12-strike out performance en route to another no-decision against a strong opponent.

His next start following the Crespi game proved to be the peak of his season, but it wasn’t without its cost. While striking out 12 Lompoc hitters along the way to the no-hitter, Tyler Skaggs revealed that he is human after all.

Some time midway through the game he twisted his ankle. It didn’t seem to be much at the time, just a minor sprain, but it would later cost him the rest of his senior season.

He recovered enough to make his next start against Ocean League rival Inglewood, but it was a slightly different player who took the mound. He shut out Inglewood through six innings, but his mechanics were diminished by the sprain. While he tallied just one walk, four hit batters were evidence that something might be wrong.

He was able to take his next turn in the rotation against Morningside, but he was limited to three innings.

Unfortunately for a team struggling to make the playoffs, the injury has proven to be quite costly. Tyler Skaggs has yet to make a start since the April 30 outing and his team’s fortunes have suffered as a result.

The team was tied for first at that moment, but has lost four straight crucial games since his last start with three coming against Ocean League rivals. The Vikings have lost a pair to Beverly Hills and dropped a key game against first place Culver City on Tuesday.

Although the game would most likely be Tyler Skaggs’ to pitch, Duron has decided to shut down the lefty for the rest of the regular season, which ends after the Culver City game today at Samohi. The Vikings must win the 3:15 p.m. game to keep their playoff hopes alive, which would give Tyler Skaggs a little more time to heal.

Despite the injury, Samohi backers and boosters may get one more chance to see him pitch this year, but it is little solace for the injured star.

“It sucks being helpless on the bench,” he said on Tuesday following the loss to Culver City. “This is the first time I’ve ever been injured enough to miss playing time.”

Trouble in the dugout

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It can be said that with success often comes drama.

For the Vikings drama has come in the form of intense criticism from parents toward the team’s head coach, Duron.

A number of parents went as far as to complain to Athletic Director Lacy about what they termed “verbal abuse” against players. Lacy, who hired Duron two years ago, has gone on the record defending his coach, but this has done little to dissuade some parents from disparaging the coach even further.

Some have even accused the coach of giving Tyler Skaggs too many opportunities, especially at first base. Duron brushes off those allegations saying he starts players who give him the best chance to win. Tyler Skaggs’ father, Darrell Skaggs, has been one of the coach’s few proponents.

“[Duron] has had Ty’s interest at heart,” he said. “Rob is a good guy, he’s not out to hurt any of his kids.”

Darrell Skaggs added that some parents fail to realize that high school baseball is a far cry from little league where everybody plays as stated in the rule book.

“They don’t understand these kids are trying to move on to the next level,” Darrell Skaggs said. “That’s a tough chore for the coach. You have to be able to read your talent.”

Tyler Skaggs’ step father, Dan Ramos, is one of the coach’s most vocal critics.

Ramos, who is an assistant coach on another Samohi team, wrote a letter to the Daily Press earlier this season stating that “they should of got rid of this guy a long time ago!”

Duron feels that Ramos has the right to say what he likes, but was upset that the school’s administration did little to address the situation.

“What can I do,” Duron said. “I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

“All I can do is focus on my job and let the rest of that stuff play out.”

The senior starter said that while the whole situation has gotten out of hand, he has been able to “block it out” and just focus on what he can control — a focus he will need if he plans to pitch in the big leagues.

“Duron hasn’t been doing a terribly great job, but it is not all his fault,” Tyler Skaggs said. “You can’t point a finger at the coach or the players.”

Life after high school

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Baseball bloggers and experts seem to agree on Tyler Skagg’s potential as a big leaguer, but they may be forced to wait.

Aside from being a sought after pro prospect, there has been equal attention paid to him by college programs. Earlier this season he committed to attend Cal State Fullerton, but hasn’t decided what to do. He looks to the draft as the ultimate decider.

If for whatever reason he doesn’t get taken in the first couple rounds of the draft, which most experts see as unlikely, he does have a solid fall back plan.

“Either way, he has good choices,” Darrell Skaggs said. “He’s done the work in the classroom to get into college and he’s done what he needs to do on the field, so we as a family are happy with what he chooses.”

Tyler Skaggs said that his parents haven’t pushed him in either direction and the decision to turn pro would be his and his alone.

“We’ll see how it works out,” he said. “All I can do right now is wait until draft day to decide what is my next move.”

daniela@smdp.com

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